All Souls Day – November 2, 2019
(Wisdom 3:1-9; Romans 6:3-9; Matthew 11:25-30) 

Many of you have heard me tell stories about my family from whom I have learned so much in life.  I’m sure a few of you have heard the story of my dad’s earliest years that I have shared from time to time in homilies for one reason or another.  One element of that story comes to mind in a particular way today as we gather to celebrate All Soul’s Day – this day on which we pray for all of the faithful who have died in Christ.

My father was 2 years old when his mother died shortly after giving birth to his younger brother.  My grandmother was suffering from tuberculosis and was told by her doctors that unless she considered terminating her pregnancy, she would never survive childbirth.  That option was unthinkable for her.  She gave birth to my uncle and died a few days later, leaving six young children without a mother.  My grandmother was only 29 years old when she passed away in 1926.  Obviously, I never met her.  My father’s grandmother became the only mother he ever really knew for 78 of the 80 years that he lived.

Yet, for as long as my grandmother has been gone, something struck me today about my family’s relationship to this woman whom no one in my family who is living today ever knew.  My grandmother’s younger brother was a priest of this Diocese – Monsignor Pilny.  He was ordained a few years before my grandmother died and he, in turn, died a few weeks after I was ordained a priest in 1983.  …  The point of all of this:  a mass has been offered for my grandmother every year since her death 93 years ago.

What an incredible commitment in faith!  Yet, I share it hardly to set my family apart from yours – many of you remember your loved ones in just the same way.  I share it because it reflects something that is found in the hearts of all people of faith, namely, that there is so much more to this world and our lives than we can see or touch.

This reality was articulated well by our Holy Father, Pope Francis, a few years ago during his commemoration of All Soul’s Day.  “The practice of remembering the dead, caring for their graves and offering intercessory prayers,” Pope Francis said, “gives testimony of the certain hope which has taken root in the certainty that death is not the last word.  …  Man is destined to a life without limits, which has its roots and fulfillment in God.”

And so today, we celebrate as a Church what most of us affirm every day in our prayers or in the midst of our daily routine.  We affirm the words of Saint Paul from today’s second reading, “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.  We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him.”

The Feast of All Souls provides us with an opportunity to remember – with the Church – all of the holy souls, all of those dear people who have been woven into our world and our lives, who have passed from this world to the next and who journey to God.  But it also affords us a cherished moment in which we’re given the opportunity to put faces and names on those we honor and for whom we pray.

This very fact connects All Souls Day to our lives in a way that is unlike most other days in the Church year.   As such, this day and this mass can bring sadness to our lives.  …  It is never easy to let go of those whom we love.  There is never a right time or reason.  And so, because of that reality, it is essential that we see in this day the heart and substance of our faith as Christians – Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

But today’s Gospel offers us consolation even as we face life and death.  “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.  Take my yolk upon you and learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart.  Your souls will find rest for my yolk is easy and my burden is light.”

Our belief in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus won’t necessarily take away the pain that comes from grief, but it does have the power to help us make sense of why we feel the presence of our loved ones, even in their passing and why we choose to gather in prayer for them today.  It affirms what all of us believe, even if we cannot understand – that through the cross and resurrection of Jesus, death is not the end for the faithful disciple but the passage to an eternity of peace.

And so, we celebrate this day of prayer for the Holy Souls firmly convinced of God’s mercy and love.  May we find hope in the words of Pope Francis, which our faith in Jesus challenges us to make as our own.   “All baptized persons here on earth, the souls in Purgatory and all the blessed who are already in Paradise make one great Family. This communion between earth and heaven is realized especially in the prayers that we offer for one another.  …  Let us then go forward on this journey sustained by the help of brothers and sisters who are taking the same path toward heaven; and also by the help of brothers and sisters who are in heaven and are praying to Jesus for us. Go forward on this path with joy!”  Amen.